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FALL in love with your life. Whether some areas of your life bring you discontent or you are not sure how things could get any better, one way to move forward is to find joy and enthusiasm for the present moment. To discover and to build resources and tools that will allow you to put a spring in your step, design a meaningful life.
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A new year is beginning with its load of good resolutions. Most of which will be abandoned before the end of the month. To avoid that it is time to affirm one’s vision. It is only natural to wish for improvement from one year to the next and we all are motivated at first to loose this extra weight or quit our nasty habits. The worst part is that we give ourselves such a hard time when we fail to keep to our promises. So, not only did we not achieve our goals, we also end up more miserable then when we started.
There are two main reasons why these good resolutions do not stick. Firstly, we may not be as committed to the end result as much as we would like to. Secondly, we may fail to incorporate our goals into the bigger picture. In both cases the risk of failure is higher due to a lack of clarity on one’s vision or to a lack of authentic attachment to one’s vision.
To begin with, let me clarify what I mean by vision. A vision is a mental picture of how we see our future life. It is composed of elements that we have at heart to be and accomplish. A vision is a translation of our core values and deepest desires. It is the projection of our inner life to the outside world. It is the expression of our inner voice.
The more accurate and complete a vision is and the more likely we are to reach our goals. Jerrold Mundis points out that it is obvious that it is more difficult to get what we want if we are not clear about what it is in the first place. Let us say that I am starting to look for a new car. The more precise my description is the better chances I have to find my ideal car. It may seem counter intuitive at first. One would think that by keeping an open mind the chances of being happy are bigger. I say that if I have a clear idea of what I want I do not waste my time on checking out less satisfactory options. I save my energy by being specific and selective to begin with.
The place to start is by defining what it is that we want. It happens to be the most difficult phase for a number of us. Once again, we may let our desires be contaminated by our friends’ opinions or society’s standards. Being crystal clear and honest with ourselves is not that easy. We all are, to some degree, influenced by our surroundings. All this to say that creating an authentic vision of our life can be a little more challenging that what one may expect and a lot of times we fail to achieve our goals simply because our heart is just not really into it. We may unintentionally embrace others expectations for us rather than give ourselves permission to follow our own desires.
There are more than one way to build ones vision. Among the numerous techniques and methods, something as simple as talking and sharing our thoughts with someone else may be most effective. Having to articulate our thoughts and to hear oneself put it in words begins to give these mental constructions some validation and vividness. Journaling also helps to clarify our priorities and sort out what feels important from the more trivial. Vision boards provide us with a recurring reminder of our plans and desires. It is not a mere artistic project to pursue a rainy Sunday afternoon. By compiling pictures and phrases that really speak to us, inspire us and bring us joy we create new pathways in our brains and reinforce our commitments. We become more prone to take action when we have this constant reminder of what we want to achieve.
It is key to maintain a certain level of clarity on what we want. It may evolve and change with time but we need to set our inner compass in a certain direction and set a process into motion. Sadly, we all know how easy it is to let ourselves get swamped in our daily routines and to just “get by”. That is why holding up our vision for ourselves is critical in order reach the next level in our lives. It conveys a sense of purpose and when chasing our goals becomes a game it lightens up our everyday life.
For this reason, the goal of loosing our extra pounds has more chances to be reached when it is strongly anchored into a broader vision of a healthy life that allows us to enjoy and enhance the quality of our existence. It helps to overcome cravings or to let go more easily of the little slips we may have. By inscribing it in the big picture of the person we want to be and the happiness and freedom we gain by achieving this or that objective then the obstacles may become less discouraging or the challenges less overwhelming. The vision, when it is strong and well aligned with our authentic self will carry us through any hardship and add texture to our daily life.
“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare
This is the whole point of coaching; accessing this deep part of us and being in alignment with our heart’s desire. It is often difficult to hear our inner voice. We are often deafened by other people’s opinions or what we perceive to be our obligations. The non-stop litany of “woulda”, “coulda”, shoulda” simply numbs our listening skills.
There are also these roles we embrace: provider, rescuer, parent, teacher, big sister, boss, doctor, rebel… You name it! We then tend to behave in certain ways to remain congruent with these roles. A parent ought to do this this way. Being the boss requires to do that that way. We adapt consciously or not to these roles.
Also, we may want to please or appear a certain way. We want to cover up what we believe to be terrible flaws. We think: “if they knew this about me they surely would reject me”. There is what is fashionable or not, peer pressure, society’s approval, culture, credence, belief system, family structure.
Let us not forget all the labels that we get stuck with and that we apply to others. It is human nature to categorize, compartmentalize and sort out. She is good in sports, he is brilliant, they are lazy, fun, driven, talented, obnoxious… The list is endless. We are constantly in a process of assessing and describing. At times we give more credit to others opinion over our own and we simply adopt the labels or we work very hard at contradicting them.
The debate of culture over nature is an ageless one. It is difficult to say how much we are the product of our environment and how much is our fundamental personality. We are to some extent the crucible of circumstances and events. We get to be influenced and inspired by other human beings.
Some of us got lost when our inner voice got stifled. We censured ourselves to the point we no longer were capable to distinguish clearly what we really wanted. It is never to late to recover our voice. It is sometimes difficult in the sense that people around us are now used to seeing us in a certain way and they do not appreciate to see their boat being rocked. Other times there may be great surprises to find support where it was not expected.
One thing is for sure; there is no peace in playing a part. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to keep up appearances and to act rather than be. Moreover, there is no possibility for true connection with others. Brené Brown, among others, claims that vulnerability is the gateway to authentic connection and communication. Clearly, if the mask is on and the guard is up where is the exchange? It is only two people paying parts and putting on a show. What can come out of this?
On the other hand, when we dare to express ourselves and show our true colors what is the worse that can happen? Some will not like us? We may not fit in a certain place? Then should we be around these people or in that environment in the first place? I am not saying that a little compromise once in a while is not necessary. Once again it is as usual all a matter of balance. A certain adaptability is indispensable because we get to challenge ourselves, evolve and grow from certain experiences but only to a certain extent. It is for each one of us to set the limit of where we are in integrity with ourselves.
At this time of the year where we get to be around our family members it may be a little challenging to stay true to who we are. We can be thrown back into out old roles, confronted to the old labels that we worked hard to overcome. One minute at a time! It is also interesting to turn around the table and observe the assumptions we are making about these special people who have been there since childhood and for better or for worse. What filters are we applying to them? Cleaning up our own lenses is complex process because it challenges some of our oldest and most deeply rooted beliefs and certitudes.
My wish for all of us is that we may access this part of ourselves from which we get to be our true expression. And from this place I wish you to enjoy thoroughly deep and rich connections with your loved ones and share with them this most exciting adventure that is life.
I was struggling to find an idea for this month. Then I realized that one of the highlights of October is the celebration of Halloween. What is one of the central themes of Halloween? The answer I came up with is Fear. As kids we all love the excitation that fear brings along. We enjoy the occasional ghost story, the scary movie and the thrill of the roller coaster. Some of us stay hooked on adrenaline seeking speed, jumping off planes and taking risks in general. Scaring oneself is something we grow out of or not.
Regardless of how daredevil one may seem we all have deep ingrained fears that we need to overcome in order to live life to the fullest. For example, one may be perfectly comfortable with the rush that comes as a consequence of racing a car full speed and yet have a strong fear of commitment. We tend to measure bravery and courage through outstanding accomplishments that put us in danger or require strength and certain skills. For sure there is an element of courage in embarking on certain adventures but courageous does not mean fearless. Courage is to do something in the face of the fear that we are experiencing.
Fear can be obvious such as a fear of heights or spiders. We have a choice whether or not we want to conquer these fears. There is also a wide range of fears that are far subtler, embedded in our subconscious and that end up running our lives. The first step is to become aware of those fears. Some of them stem from our core beliefs. They are so inherent to our experience of life that they are invisible. Before we know it we make a whole set of decisions primarily based on our fears. It can be anything from a fear of looking stupid, making a wrong decision, failing, getting stuck, being betrayed and the list is endless.
We all react differently in the face of fear. Some get mildly challenged, others seriously slowed down in their progression and sadly some of us become utterly paralyzed. Our minds are powerful and can play some serious tricks on us. We become skilled at proving ourselves right by focusing on all that serves as evidence. An acronym for FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. Before we know it we whip up a very convincing story that our original statement is the Truth and we nurture it with more and more evidence: X cannot be trusted, snakes/cars/teddy bears are dangerous, Xs are all liars/crooks/dishonest and etc.
Fear gets to us on every level. It has its toll on our bodies. More than a study has demonstrated the immense impact of stress on our health. It cripples our mind as well. It is impossible to think straight when all we rehash is the negative fear-based self-talk we run on most of the day. It also harms us spiritually. We shut ourselves to the experience of life by trying to protect ourselves from physical and emotional pain.
Fear is not a harmless enemy. It is powerful and sneaky. It is the source of the blocks we encounter in our lives. We easily blame others and circumstances for not being exactly where we want to be in life but in truth we often are the reason why we are not as fulfilled as we could be. As scary as it is, when we decide to be 100% responsible for the life we have we experience empowerment. And in order to change our lives we need to become aware of what is stopping us. That alone requires an honest and demanding self-examination. Then we get a choice to stay where we are or to take on the challenges to transform our lives.
No matter what choices we make it is fundamental to confront our deepest fears. Where there is fear there is no place for growth or fulfillment. We cut ourselves from the beauty of life and we condemn ourselves to an existence of suffering where we feel powerless and victimized. Fear is the antithesis of love. Fear is a tough enemy and it possible to surmount it.
One of the numerous pay offs of tracking our fears is that on the other side of those we often find our true desires. When we overcome our fears we become more of who we are in essence. And as we reconnect with those desires we access a life where we live by our passions and from our hearts. Also by grounding ourselves in what makes our hearts sing we become stronger to face our remaining fears. We step out of a vicious circle where are fears run the show and constrict our lives to a place where we follow our passion and expand to who we want to be and align with our life purpose. Then we become unstoppable. It is a process that requires work and it is worth it.
This month I would like to share about the importance of “self-care”. You may also find interesting information on this subject reading articles on “positive selfishness” or “selfhood”. Why this topic? One of the main events in the calendar for this month of February is Valentine’s Day. Of course it is a beautiful thing to celebrate love and show a little additional attention to those who make our life special. I am taking the risk of saying something that is awfully commonplace yet little observed: we do not take care enough of ourselves. We forget or deny ourselves and turn a deaf ear to a lot of our most fundamental needs. So, in parallel to honoring our loved ones let me also make a reminder of the importance of treating ourselves well on a daily basis.
Undeniably there are periods of time when we want to make a special effort to reach a specific goal. It takes time and awareness to achieve balance between the multitude of activities we want or feel we have to accomplish. Yet, even when things are crystal clear, that we have time at hand, that we know what we want, have the means to do it and how to get it we postpone or cancel a lot of possibilities to enhance our lives.
My guess is that part of the problem is that a lot of us have a negative view of self-care and associate it with self-centeredness or selfishness. I worked for several years as a massage therapist and I cannot count the number of times when I had anxious moms feeling guilty to use the gift certificate they were offered on Mother’s Day because it meant that there were a ton of other things they could be doing at that moment and it felt truly uncomfortable for them to take a break and enjoy an hour for themselves.
It took me a lot of time and it is still a fierce battle with myself to allow my little person to rest when I am tired, take a break to eat when I am hungry, get in bed when I am sick or play when I still have items on my to-do list. I observe once again that I am far from being the only one. Yet, I am clear that the days when I make time to take care of my physical and emotional well being I am far more efficient, I am more focused, more energetic and I enjoy myself a great deal more. Do you think that having experienced that on a regular basis it is now an automatism? Certainly not is the answer! Why? There is always something important or urgent to do! I do not feel in the mood. I am too tired etc.
There is no such bargaining in other areas of my life. If I do not put gas in my car, if I forget to change the oil or constantly delay any of the regular maintenance the next sure thing is that it will breakdown. And just like a car nothing is maintenance-free. To be efficient I need maintenance. How can I truly be efficient, happy and have healthy relationships with others if I am hungry, exhausted, depleted, and lacking sleep, physically in pain, overwhelmed and/or at the end of my rope? Obviously, I cannot. And as Richard Moss said “The distance from another is the distance from ourselves”.
It is as simple as that. Self-care is no more or no less than maintenance. It is fundamental to any sustainable efficiency and meaningful relationships with others. ”Charity begins home,” they say. And I work on a daily basis remembering and applying this to my life. Using others as an excuse is so easy. Then we delve into many other areas such as “people pleasing”, chronic incapacity to say “no”, wanting to be nice, helping out others instead of taking on our own personal business and the rest of the list is long. It is a long process to become aware of such behaviors since most of them are so deeply rooted in our everyday lives. It takes time, acceptance and patience to identify them and modify them. It is uncomfortable as well but the reward is worth it. The reward is a healthier and more authentic existence. Self-care is the indispensable maintenance to ensure a smooth ride.
Fresh Start: Do not let Procrastination get in your Way!
Let us talk today about procrastination. We are in January and in the culture in which I was born, it is the beginning of the year. It usually is an opportunity to make a fresh start as well as the occasion to commit to changes in one’s life. For example: go to the gym, go on a diet, meet someone are the classics. I could go on and on. What I observed though is that many of these promises were dropped sooner or later.
Starting another year is seen by some people as a chance to take on projects with a new eye, from a different perspective or they may experience a sense of regained energy and develop a certain enthusiasm for new challenges. There is a quote that I love and I used it as the first post on this blog: “Though you cannot go back and make a brand new start my friend, you can start from now and make a brand new end” (Anonymous). It is never too late, is it? To be perfectly honest, I had planned on writing this post quite a while back, when my friend Dennis finished creating this website. He even guided me step by step through all the technical aspects and patiently taught me what to do. I was ready to get started and yet the other day I realized that the entry “create a new post” had been on my “to do” list since July!
As many others, under the impulse of this New Year I felt it was time to get started. My idea is to share observations, raise certain questions on a different subject every month in 2014 and provoke awareness in best cases. So, I guess it starts with me. Looking more closely at the reasons why this entry on my to-do lists had not yet been taken care of many reasons and excuses came up. Definitely, a lot took place and I did cross out many other items from my lists. Again, being perfectly honest I was forced to admit that I could have made the time and that there were opportunities I did not seize.
I could see that there were other instances when I lost my focus and I would end up feeling utterly overwhelmed. I grew aware of how frequent it had been in my life as well as in the lives of the people surrounding me. I observed how often we postpone taking actions although they would be tremendously helpful, healthy, fun, necessary and even vital. We all put ourselves through painful moments of frustration or in deep trouble because of delaying completing certain tasks. I do not mean to be indulgent towards my past choices. Again, I merely observe that this phenomenon is broad and in certain cases quite destructive. This phenomenon has a name: Procrastination.
Procrastination is taken more and more seriously in the field of psychology. Clearly, in order to overcome a problem it is necessary to understand what it is about and what impact it has. I will not engage in extensively describing or commenting on Procrastination when there are many very interesting articles written by specialists. This is the reason why I chose to share a few links to articles I found interesting to start with.
It appears to me that one’s degree of Procrastination can be put on a scale. Where most people experience it from time to time or in only a certain area of their life others suffer from it to the extent they are paralyzed and it cripples them to the point they dramatically sabotage themselves. It can be very subtle, often misunderstood and confused with laziness, lack of ambition or plain carelessness. Yet, a lot of times, delaying certain tasks does not necessarily mean doing nothing. I could not count the amount of times when I delayed my concentrating on a paper in favor of doing the dishes, re-organizing my emails or anything else that was not fundamentally urgent. Now I see that it was merely easier for me to launch myself in something boring yet comfortable than in an activity more challenging and stressful. Paul Graham outlines that very well in his article where he qualifies good and bad procrastination (see attached link). At any rate, procrastination of any sort clearly stands in our way to being fully efficient and it may take a physical as well as an emotional toll on us.
I strongly believe we are all affected by episodes of procrastination and it has various impacts on our lives. That is why I think that gaining awareness on how we do it, to what frequency and in what circumstances is a key to leading a more effective and comfortable life. There is no point in beating oneself up over it and from what I have seen so far I doubt it can be fully eradicated. Yet, from what I read it we can progressively overcome it. We can trick ourselves to procrastinate effectively (see article on structured procrastination). By implementing strategies to get around it, we can progress in a less painful manner than by pushing ourselves brutally with what we think to be self-will.
What I find to be efficient is first of all to know myself well enough. That is where neutral observation and acceptance come handy. It is a difficult exercise yet necessary to make an accurate assessment in order to determine strategies and actions. In addition to creating awareness I have experienced that when I am pulled by a goal and excited by a certain outcome, my motivation enables me to overcome the fear and the discomfort that usually take me right in “procrastination land”. Therefore, creating a vision by depicting as accurately as possible the life I want for myself is the best way I know to muster the necessary energy to deal with some steps that I do not qualify as interesting or enjoyable and to arm myself for the battle against my doubts and fears.
Moreover, with time I created for myself tools that help me to stay on the top my to-do list. These tools correspond to my needs and to my personality. They are tailored for me. I had to try on several approaches. There are still tasks that I am more or less enthusiastic to perform. I try to bring a certain balance between urgent missions, long-term projects, interesting work and compulsory chores. My point is that I try to make my day enjoyable and efficient. I never missed deadlines and using my tools I progressed at meeting them with more ease and effectiveness.
I would like to end this text wishing you a productive and fulfilling year. I also invite you to consider what tools and resources could support you in bringing to fruition the projects you have at heart to develop this year and that procrastination may end as just another funny sounding word in the dictionary.
The following links and resources may be of help if you want to gain a better understanding of what Procrastination is about:
PDF: Belonging to Tomorrow: An Overview of Procrastination by Brian A. Wilson
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Procrastination: Wikipedia definition.
http://www.raptitude.com/2011/05/procrastination-is-not-laziness/: defines and describes procrastination. Some of the origins explained by Neil Fiore’s “The Now Habit”.
http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/: on how to deceive oneself in using a flaw to counter act on defeating habits.
http://www.paulgraham.com/procrastination.html: Good and bad procrastination. How errands can kill good work.
http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/10/27/procrastination/: self-control, notion of laziness.